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Olympic Capitalism: Bread and Circuses Without the Bread May 1, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Brazil, Economic Crisis, Latin America, Sports, War.
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Roger’s note: When I was a member of Toronto’s Metropolitan City Council, I was an avid opponent of the city’s (failed) bid for the 1996 Olympics and a supporter of the citizen lead Bread Not Circuses Coalition.  I can verify from my experience and research at the time, that everything you read below is true.

OpEdNews Op Eds 5/1/2014 at 14:54:47

By (about the author)  

he author of Brazil’s Dance With the Devil, Dave Zirin, must love sports, as I do, as billions of us do, or he wouldn’t keep writing about where sports have gone wrong.  But, wow, have they gone wrong!

Brazil is set to host the World Cup this year and the Olympics in 2016.  In preparation Brazil is evicting 200,000 people from their homes, eliminating poor neighborhoods, defunding public services, investing in a militarized police and surveillance state, using slave and prison labor to build outrageous stadiums unlikely to be filled more than once, and “improving” a famous old stadium (the world’s largest for 50 years) by removing over half the capacity in favor of luxury seats.  Meanwhile, popular protests and graffiti carry the message: “We want ‘FIFA standard’ hospitals and schools!” not to mention this one:

 


FIFA Train
(image by http://warisacrime.org)

 

(FIFA = Fédération Internationale de Football Association, aka Soccer Profiteers International)

Brazil is just the latest in a string of nations that have chosen the glory of hosting mega sports events like the Olympics and World Cup despite the drawbacks.  And Zirin makes a case that nations’ governments don’t see the drawbacks as drawbacks at all, that in fact they are the actual motivation.  “Countries don’t want these mega-events in spite of the threats to public welfare, addled construction projects, and repression they bring, but because of them.”  Just as a storm or a war can be used as an excuse to strip away rights and concentrate wealth, so can the storm of sporting events that, coincidentally or not, have their origins in the preparation of nations for warmaking.

Zirin notes that the modern Olympics were launched by a group of European aristocrats and generals who favored nationalism and war — led by Pierre de Coubertin who believed sport was “an indirect preparation for war.” “In sports,” he said, “all the same qualities flourish which serve for warfare: indifference toward one’s well being, courage, readiness for the unforeseen.”  The trappings of the Olympic celebration as we know it, however — the opening ceremonies, marching athletes, Olympic torch run, etc., — were created by the Nazis’ propaganda office for the 1936 games.  The World Cup, on the other hand, began in 1934 in Mussolini’s Italy with a tournament rigged to guarantee an Italian win.

More worrisome than what sports prepare athletes for is what they may prepare fans for.  There are great similarities between rooting for a sports team, especially a national sports team, and rooting for a national military.  “As soon as the question of prestige arises,” wrote George Orwell, whom Zirin quotes, “as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused.”  And there is prestige not just in “your” team winning, but in “your” nation hosting the grand event.  Zirin spoke with people in Brazil who were of mixed minds, opposing the injustices the Olympics bring but still glad the Olympics was coming to Brazil.  Zirin also quotes Brazilian politicians who seem to share the goal of national prestige.

At some point the prestige and the profits and the corruption and the commercialism seem to take over the athletics.  “[T]he Olympics aren’t about  sport any more than the Iraq war was about democracy,” Zirin writes. “The Olympics are not about athletes.  And they’re definitely not about bringing together the ‘community of nations.’ They are a neoliberal Trojan horse aimed at bringing in business and rolling back the most basic civil liberties.”

And yet … And yet … the damn thing still is about sports, no matter what else it’s about, no matter what alternative venues for sports are possible or imaginable.  The fact remains that there are great athletes engaged in great sporting activities in the Olympics and the World Cup.  The attraction of the circus is still real, even when we know it’s at the expense of bread, rather than accompanying bread.  And dangerous as the circus may be for the patriotic and militarist minded — just as a sip of beer might be dangerous to an alcoholic — one has the darndest time trying to find anything wrong with one’s own appreciation for sports; at least I do.

The Olympics are also decidedly less militaristic — or at least overtly militaristic — than U.S. sports like football, baseball, and basketball, with their endless glorification of the U.S. military.  “Thank you to our service men and women watching in 175 countries and keeping us safe.” The Olympics is also one of the few times that people in the U.S. see people from other countries on their televisions without wars being involved.

Zirin’s portrait of Brazil leaves me with similarly mixed sentiments. His research is impressive. He describes a rich and complex history.  Despite all the corruption and cruelty, I can’t help being attracted to a nation that won its independence without a war, abolished slavery without a war, reduces poverty by giving poor people money, denounces U.S. drone murders at the U.N., joins with Turkey to propose an agreement between the United States and Iran, joins with Russia, India, and China to resist U.S. imperialism; and on the same day this year that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed ending the open internet, Brazil created the world’s first internet bill of rights. For a deeply flawed place, there’s a lot to like.

It’s also hard to resist a group of people that pushes back against the outrages being imposed on it.  When a bunch of houses in a poor Brazilian neighborhood were slated for demolition, an artist took photos of the residents, blew them up, and pasted them on the walls of the houses, finally shaming the government into letting the houses stand.  That approach to injustice, much like the Pakistani artists’ recent placement of an enormous photo of a drone victim in a field for U.S. drone pilots to see, has huge potential.

Now, the question is how to display the Olympics’ victims to enough Olympics fans around the world so that no new nation will be able to accept this monster on the terms it has been imposing.

David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more…)

International Olympic Committee May Join Russia in Punishing Gay Athletes August 13, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Sports.
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Jamie McGonnigal

 

SPORT-OLY-2014-RUS-IOC-SOCHI

 

Between the Stoli boycott and statements from athletes around the world with regard to next year’s Winter Olympics and Russia’s new, draconian anti-gay laws, most of you know what’s been going on. For those who don’t, the short version is this: Earlier this year, Russia passed some horrifically anti-gay laws that make it illegal to “promote” homosexuality. Apparently you can be gay, but you just can’t ever tell anyone about it for fear that you’ll be reported and go to prison. These laws have given cover to neo-Nazi groups and others who take the law into their own hands by beating and murdering any person they think doesn’t measure up to their standard of heterosexuality.

 

Many have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make strong statements against these laws, and some have even called for them to move the 2014 Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia, to a place that is more accepting of all athletes. The IOC responded by declaring that they’d spoken to Russian authorities and had been assured that Olympic athletes and fans would be exempt from the anti-gay laws while in Sochi. Not so fast, responded Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who made it clear that Olympic athletes and fans would have to respect the host country’s bigoted laws. And today, Russia’s Interior Ministry stated unequivocally that the anti-gay laws will be enforced during the Olympic Games in Sochi.

 

This game of media ping-pong has left Olympic participants without any actual information regarding the situation in Russia. The truth of the matter is that no matter what kinds of assurances the IOC makes, LGBT people are not welcome or safe in Russia. The IOC can say whatever they want to, but it will not stop some Russian thug in a bar from kidnapping, beating and potentially murdering someone he perceives as gay.

 

Gay Star News asked the IOC what they thought about plans for athletes to wear rainbow pins or hold hands during the opening and closing ceremonies. They also asked if the IOC would provide a safe space — or Pride House — for LGBT athletes, spectators, dignitaries and others during the Games, to celebrate gay sport and community, as has been done in previous years. The IOC’s spokesperson replied, “[T]he IOC has a clear rule laid out in the Olympic Charter (Rule 50) which states that the venues of the Olympic Games are not a place for proactive political or religious demonstration. This rule has been in place for many years and applied when necessary.” Indeed, Rule 50 of the IOC’s charter states, “No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas.”

 

So instead of actually standing up for LGBT athletes, the IOC is essentially siding with Russia and issuing a warning to lesbian and gay athletes. The IOC has made it clear that they have a double standard when it comes to accepting all athletes. The Pride House in Vancouver was historic in that it provided a safe space for LGBT athletes from around the world. The IOC clearly didn’t see this as a violation of Rule 50 a few years ago, but it seems as though athletes must now be forced to step back into the closet for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

 

If the Olympics remain in Sochi, LGBT athletes are automatically at a disadvantage. It’s really hard to perform to one’s full capabilities when one is spending part or most of the day in actual fear for his or her life. Gay New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup told USA Today, “I don’t want to have to tone myself down about who I am. That wasn’t very fun and there’s no way I’m going back in the closet. I just want to be myself and I hate to think that being myself would get me in trouble.” I don’t think you’ll find a single athlete out there who’d disagree with the notion that you perform better when you don’t have to hide who you are. In fact, many said as much when basketball player Jason Collins came out last year.

 

At this point, I can’t imagine that there is anything that the IOC can say to actually ensure the safety of Olympic participants or fans, whether it be from the Russian government itself or from vigilantes who are rarely if ever prosecuted for their crimes against LGBT people. While boycotts and news stories have been effective at getting the word out about the atrocities being carried out against LGBT people in Russia, none of this will actually make anyone safer in Russia. And none of it will stop LGBT athletes from constantly having to look over their shoulders as they compete for Olympic gold.

 

 

 

 

Follow Jamie McGonnigal on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mcbenefit

 

Olympics Petition Delivered August 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, LGBT, Russia, Sports.
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allout_image_3424_full

Today in Switzerland: more than 50 All Out members delivered our petition of over 322,000 names from around the world to the International Olympic Committee.

In fewer than 200 days, Russia will host the Winter Olympics. Their anti-gay laws are fuelling terrible violence and murders across the country and they fly in the face of the Olympic values of friendship and respect.

That’s why we gathered at Olympics HQ today to ask the Olympic Committee to speak out against Russia’s anti-gay crackdown, face-to face.

The Olympic Committee hasn’t hosted such a gathering before! Their Director of Communications accepted the massive petition and held a long meeting with us.

He listened to our concerns and announced that the Olympic Committee has now asked for the Russian government to state in writing that no athletes or visitors will be persecuted because they are gay. That shows they’re feeling our pressure to do more – but it’s not enough.

We’re going to keep asking the Olympic Committee to be a true guardian of Olympic values, by speaking out against the Russian anti-gay crackdown. The International Association of Athletics Federations spoke out today – it’s time for the Olympics to follow.

Today the 1.8 millionth member joined All Out, and together we did something really important for people power. We showed the biggest world leader in sport that we’re not just anonymous names on the internet. We’re real people and we want them to speak out for love and equality.

Right now, we’re figuring out the next things we can do together to persuade the Olympic Committee to speak out. If we can do it, it will build the pressure on President Putin to stop the anti-gay crackdown. So watch out for the next call to action!

 

Thanks for going All Out,

Andre, Guillaume, Hayley, Jeremy, Joe, Marie, Mike, Tile, and the rest of the All Out team.

PS: Recently, more than 3,738 All Out members chipped in for a fighting fund to power the campaign. That meant we could send some of our team to Switzerland to deliver the petition in person. There’s so much more to do – and it’s not too late to help by chipping in to support All Out. Click here to donate: https://www.allout.org/donate

Restraint for Everything but Sports February 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis, Sports.
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Published on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 by The Toronto Starby Linda McQuaig

No cost has been spared in mounting a giant spectacle of spandex-clad athletes performing dazzling feats in massive public venues.

Certainly, nobody seems to be letting the $6 billion price tag for Vancouver’s Olympic extravaganza get in the way.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against sports. I appreciate the nuances of a fine skeleton performance as much as the next person.

My point is simply to question why goals other than mounting gala sports events are routinely dismissed on the grounds that we can’t afford them.

Of course, sports extravaganzas often have side benefits. We’re told that with the 2015 Pan Am Games coming here, Toronto may finally get its public transit system upgraded.

How’s that? Are the Pan Am countries – an assortment of mostly poverty-stricken Latin American nations – going to chip in to improve Toronto’s subway system?

No. We’re going to pay. So why don’t we just decide to do it without the Games, given the need and the looming climate change disaster?

The conventional explanation is that the public won’t pay otherwise. But is the public the real obstacle here?

We’ve been exhorted to believe in the magic of sports, in the transformative power of the Olympic torch – that no dream is too big to dream, that guts and willpower will bring us glory.

But next week, when Ottawa brings down its budget, all that big-thinking and sky-high believing is to be shelved. We’ll be advised to think small, think restraint, focus on the impossibility of things. Deficits will own the podium.

That’s not because the public only cares about sports. It’s because the corporate world only supports public investments when it comes to sports and war, from which it makes money. But it wants to hold the line on public investment in health care, education, child care, social supports, etc.

So it’s tried to convince us these things aren’t affordable, or that we don’t want to pay for them – as we did in the past.

From the end of World War II, federal spending was almost always above 15 per cent of GDP, until the massive Liberal spending cuts of the mid-1990s brought it way down to about 12 per cent, notes economist Armine Yalnizyan.

Those cuts – made to reduce deficits caused by recession and overly tight monetary policy – became permanent, even after balanced budgets were quickly restored in the late 1990s.

Despite a decade of huge federal surpluses since then, the Liberals and the Conservatives failed to restore spending levels that prevailed during the prosperous early postwar decades, cutting taxes in response to corporate pressure instead.

The Harper government has made clear that once the stimulus package expires, federal spending will return to the historically low levels of the past decade.

But this is disastrous policy. Given the severity of the ongoing recession, what is needed now is massive public investment to put the country back to work and rebuild our crumbling social and physical infrastructure.

For millions of young people, holding a job is a dream just as surely as competing before the hometown crowd.

But we’re supposed to believe that, beyond sports, we can’t afford to meet our needs, no matter how pressing.

Perhaps we could finally get some serious action on climate change if it were a curling bonspiel – rather than simply a crisis that threatens life as we know it on this planet.

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2010

Linda McQuaig’s column appears in The Star every other week.

A Tale of Two Vancouvers February 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Political Commentary.
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Published on Saturday, February 13, 2010 by The Guardian/UK

The rational, principled resistance of activists protesting against the Winter Olympics chimes with Canadian public opinion

by Jules Boycoff

The Winter Olympics begin today, with the opening ceremony at Vancouver’s BC Place. While the games have lured some of the world’s most accomplished athletes to Canada to compete for the gold, they’ve also roused a groundswell of anti-Olympic dissent.

Five-ring flag-waving Olympic boosters will tell you these anti-Olympic protesters are a grumpy gaggle of naysayers intent on spoiling other people’s fun. Even worse, as Am Johal of the Vancouver-based Impact on Community Coalition told me, “If you start criticising the Olympics, you’re portrayed as a sort of Trotskyist on the fringes of society.” But for those willing to listen, many anti-Olympic activists are actually advancing rational, principled resistance that chimes with Canadian public opinion in many ways.

Olympic enthusiasts are correct that hosting the Games has jumpstarted some valuable infrastructure projects, the Canada Line being a shining example. But that doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye to rights that are squashed as the Olympic gravy-train rolls into town. Nor should we deny the social debris that is sure to remain in its wake when Olympic bigwigs pack up and head to London.

Although the Olympic charter supports “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) opted to hold the games on unceded indigenous land. As such, the spectre of dispossession haunts the Olympics, with numerous First Nations land claims yet to be resolved. Eighty of the 203 aboriginal bands in British Columbia have refused to partake in the games, which is remarkable in light of the pro-Olympic propaganda that has filled the social ether. When you hear protesters chanting the maxim “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land,” they’re not doing it for their health. You can ignore the history of indigenous oppression – and many people do – but that doesn’t meant it’s irrelevant.

Anti-Olympic activists are also rankled by the ever-ballooning economic costs of hosting the games, from less than $1bn to more than $6bn. The financial meltdown of 2008 couldn’t have come at a worse time for Olympic organisers, but they’ve also been plagued by the incessant low-balling of costs.

The Olympics are yet another painful example of a public-private partnership gone awry. Taxpayers have been surreptitiously soaked by private developers who’ve created a real-deal budget-buster for the city. Were it not for an emergency infusion of taxpayer money to cover cost overruns, the Olympic Village would be half built. The closer we get to the Olympics, the more people agree with Johal that “The Olympics are a corporate franchise that you buy with public money.”

Fundamental day-to-day needs are being sacrificed on the altar of Olympic glory while nearly half of Canadians in a recent survey felt the country’s current economic conditions are “poor” or “very poor.” The shimmering glow from the Olympic rings above the Vancouver harbor only illuminates the contradiction that 800 teachers recently received notification they may be laid off next year because of budget cuts. The homeless population in Vancouver has more than doubled since the Olympic bidding process began.

Speaking of money trouble, the security budget for the Olympics has skyrocketed from $175m to about $1bn. For the residents of Vancouver, this hefty price tag translates to the militarisation of public space. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada reported the installation of nearly 1,000 surveillance cameras in Vancouver. The Canadian government has formed the Vancouver Integrated Security Unit comprised of thousands of police and military officers.

And this is only what we’re aware of. David Eby, the Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association told me, “I’m really worried about what we don’t know. I’m worried about the weapons we don’t know about that the police may have purchased, the tactics we don’t know about that they want to use on activists.” These are not the irrational howls of a paranoiac, but the levelheaded concerns of someone with on-the-ground experience.

From the Olympic bidding process onward, the “legacy” of the Olympics has been hotly debated. In a recent boilerplate op-ed for the Vancouver Sun, IOC president Jacques Rogge unambitiously asserted the legacy of the games will be sports venues and an Olympic Village-turned-apartment-complex.

Anti-Olympics activists have much higher hopes. Thanks to the conversations that have occurred within the anti-Olympic movement, Johal said the real legacy of the games may well be “elevated democracy” and a “sustained conversation” about what matters to the people of Canada.

With that in mind, in the coming weeks when we see dissidents in the media, rather than engage in name-calling, we might thank them for jumpstarting democracy.

After all, Canadian prime minster Stephen Harper has prorogued parliament – suspending lawmaking for the duration of the games – so can we really blame activists for wanting to prorogue the Olympics?

© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited

Jules Boykoff is a former professional soccer player who represented the US Olympic team in international competition. He is an associate professor of political science at Pacific University in Oregon.
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